The issue is that the states that allow same-sex couples from other states to marry, also require the couple to be a resident to get divorced there. And states that don't recognize gay marriage – such as Pennsylvania – won't divorce a couple that isn't recognized as married in the state. Additionally, residents of the state where they were married, who then move to a state that does not recognize the marriage, are also affected.
But there are alternatives for same-sex couples rather than moving (back) to the state where they were married. And fortunately the first of these alternatives can be part of the marriage process – just as for straight couples.
• Get a pre-nuptial agreement. (Source: Above the Law)
Getting a prenup doesn't make the marriage any less true, but it may be even more prudent in same-sex marriages because of the difficulties in obtaining a divorce through the courts. It might not end the divorce, but the wishes of each person wanting the divorce could be settled – from a property perspective.
• Seek out a mediator. (Source: About.com)
While also being cheaper than the divorce process through the courts and attorneys, the process of going through mediation is one that is more amicable for the same reason it's cheaper. The process concludes with a legally binding contract of the terms as agreed upon with the mediator.
• Another option is do a separation without assistance.
This is certainly the cheaper option, but requires some very level heads. More importantly, it lacks a legally binding contract, so either party could reneg at any time, and the outcome would be determined by the resolve of each person. Without a third-party, such as a mediator or lawyer, there is no one to balance the power in the situation, leaving one party potentially even less happy with the outcome.
The bigger issue with these alternatives – and even for same-sex married partners who can divorce in their state – is that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court is also hearing, doesn't recognize same-sex marriage either. And so divorce, and splitting up of property is subject to taxation that opposite-sex divorcing couples are not subject to. (Source: Forbes.com)
Of course, divorce is not just about taxes, it is an emotionally difficult experience for both partners, and for any children in the relationship. States that don't accept gay marriage are unlikely to offer legally binding visitation, custody or support orders either.
This aspect of the break up and the issues in the relationship preceding a divorce are the speciality of couples and family therapists. From working to bring a distressed relationship back to a stronger foundation, to working with children and co-parenting issues, as well individual therapy for the newly single partners and parents, MFTs specialize in these areas, regardless of sexual orientation.
We are here to give witness to the pain and confusion and help sort out the emotional aspects by strengthening coping skills, creating new coping skills and finding meaning in the new identities that come with divorce.
If you're interested in therapy around any of these topics, give the therapists at PhiladelphiaMFT a call. Also, be sure to check our Resources page for a mediation firm in the Philadelphia area.
This topic of the week was written by Brian Swope, MFT.